KASHIMA, IBARAKI PREF. – Kashima Antlers lived to see another day in the Asian Champions League thanks to substitute Hiroyuki Takasaki’s last-gasp header that gave them a 2-1 win over Guangzhou Evergrande on Tuesday.
A first-half Yasushi Endo penalty pushed Toninho Cerezo’s men in front, but 2013 champion Guangzhou restored parity through Elkeson midway through the second half.
Yet just when it looked like the hosts were doomed, Takasaki, who came on with 13 minutes to go, headed in Gaku Shibasaki’s free kick with the last touch of the game to give Kashima its first win of the campaign.
The victory threw Antlers a lifeline at the bottom of Group H on three points with two games left in the first round. Guangzhou is still top with nine points, followed by defending champion Western Sydney Wanderers and FC Seoul with five points apiece.
“The manager has been playing me all this time but I just wasn’t scoring,” Takasaki said. “So I’m glad to have finally scored.
“If we didn’t win tonight, the ACL was over for us. I was on the end of a great ball and I willed it in. I’m just really glad we won tonight.”
Also Tuesday, Gamba Osaka also produced their first win of the competition, 2-1 against Buriram United in Thailand in Group F.
Having dropped its first three matches, Kashima could have gone out of the competition had it lost on this night after Western Sydney drew 1-1 at home to Seoul.
Antlers grabbed the first goal they desperately needed in the 19th minute, when a ball from Endo was handled by Guangzhou defender Kim Young-gwon inside the box.
Endo stepped up to the spot himself, sending goalkeeper Li Shuai the other way as he casually converted into the bottom left corner.
Guangzhou nearly leveled shortly past the half-hour as Hitoshi Sogahata had to tip an Elkeson free kick off the left-hand post to preserve Kashima’s halftime lead.
But Elkeson would find the net following the break after 74 minutes, sweeping home a low cross by Gao Lin from close range as Antlers center-half Gen Shoji failed to put a body on the Brazilian.
It appeared the night was going to end miserably again for Kashima, but Takasaki had other ideas, capitalizing in the 93rd minute to hand his team all three points.
Guangzhou manager Fabio Cannavaro made no excuses after the Chinese champions suffered their first defeat of the tournament.
“Today was not the result of luck,” the former World Cup MVP said. “They deserved the victory through sheer hard work. We gave away a first-half penalty but I’m not too bothered about that.
“I’m confident we can get the job done next time as long as we put in the work.”